Anyone who thinks the Buller District Council supports an end to coal mining should take the time to read the full submission to the Climate Change Commission, according to Inangahua Community Board chairman John Bougen.
The Buller councillor says he is being stopped on the street by Reefton people demanding to know why the council has refused to fight for the coal industry and the West Coasters who work in it.
"They have got the impression from media reports that the council supports the cessation of coal mining. Nothing could be further from the truth," Bougen said.
The council submission accepted that climate change science was not up for debate and strongly supported the commission's draft advice on reducing carbon emissions, but said coal mining accounted for a third of all primary sector jobs in Buller and a third of the district's GDP.
"High temperature heat used in steel manufacture and generated from burning high-quality coking coal is particularly challenging to decarbonise and is recognised as a hard-to-abate industry," it submitted.
Alternative technologies to using coal in steel manufacture were unlikely to be available until at least 2035, but could be brought forward as international pressure increased to reduce carbon emissions.
"This leaves council and its communities in the uncomfortable position of knowing that coking coal obsolescence is coming but not when ... we are poorly placed to be able to provide for Buller's economic transition and ongoing prosperity."
The council had also pointed out the hardship Buller families would face if coal were banned as a home-heating fuel, Bougen said.
In a district with some of the highest electricity costs in New Zealand, people would need financial support to change to low emission energy sources, according to the submission.
"The council's position is that we will need coal until there is a viable replacement," Bougen said.
"At some point that will happen, and we need to be ready for that - but until that time we will continue to rely on coal and we have clearly stated that."
Former Buller mayor Pat O'Dea has reproached the council for not taking a firmer stand on the issue and fighting for the future of coalmining.
Bougen said the best strategy was to be well prepared and resourced for the inevitable, while continuing business as usual.
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